season 1, episode 10: philip & erin stead



Conversation started 29 September 2014, 3:55 p.m.

PHIL: Well, here we go. Last episode. It’s kinda weird sending you an email since you’re sitting 4 feet away. But here goes…

How do you think this went? Any favorite moments? The whole thing turned out to be way more exhausting and emotionally taxing than I’d expected. But in the end I think we were able to mine some pretty good, original content. That said, we might have to call in a pinch hitter for season two.


I think it went okay. Everyone wrote back too efficiently for me to properly respond with intelligent thoughts, but you kept up quite nicely.

As far as favorite moments go, I’m not sure I have one. But I can say that I am still surprised at how many thoughts and conclusions we share with the other book people we’ve met or corresponded with here. I guess it’s because when making things (or even choosing to take the path to attempt to make things) you have to come to conclusions on your own. It often feels like you’re on your own island. My island gets to include you and a dog, so it’s pretty good. Nevertheless, it’s comforting to realize you have friends with shared interests out there.

I’ve never been a person who was interested in journaling. I tried it a few times as a kid but it never really drew me. If anything, I live with my mistakes too much as it is, and don’t feel like writing it down will help me reflect on any of those mistakes at a later date.

I think because I share so much time and space with you, writing this email feels a little like journaling and I am not quite sure what to ask. We lived in different states for a few years and wrote letters during that time, but that was different. I don’t want this to feel contrived (or, actually be contrived).

So. Hmm.

You have a new book that came out this week. What, specifically, did you like about making this one?

PHIL: Well, so much for me writing back efficiently. It has be 23 days since you wrote. Apparently I could get really excited about talking about other people’s work. But now that’s it’s our turn I can’t seem to muster the energy. So I think I’ll ignore your question for now and talk instead about a few books that I’m really loving this week.

Book number one is: Nana in the City, by Lauren Castillo.

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I think this book is actually perfect. I mean actually perfect. Not just very nice, or very well done. But perfect. And it’s done in a totally unassuming and quiet way. The book feels so natural that I worry it won’t be noticed for how good it is. So listen up folks, if you have any interest in understanding the peculiar language of picture books, then go buy a copy of this book and read it 100 times. (See also: Melvin and the Boy—another Lauren Castillo masterpiece that may not have received all the credit it was due).

Okay, book number two: The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Mastisse, by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper.

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This book is just plain beautiful. The text is gorgeous and simple and unpretentious. It’s the unpretentiousness that is particularly refreshing here since we are, after all, trying to talk about turn-of-the-century French painting (or shall I say fin de siécle French painting and show off how I went to art school?) in a way that 7-year-olds will relate to. Hadley Hooper has an enviable grasp of color and pattern that works perfectly for the subject. I hope people discover this one.

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And book number three: Once upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters, by Oliver Jeffers.

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Speaking of unpretentious, this book feels a little like a project dreamed up over a weekend by an eight-year-old, alone their room (this is meant to be a compliment). This book feels like it was really fun to make. Oliver Jeffers is one person in this business that we’ve never crossed paths with. I’d really like to know if his work comes as effortless as it looks like it does, or if in reality he suffers and slaves over it. I’m not sure which I’d rather be true. But anyway, this is a really fun book—the kind of book that makes me want to go make books myself. That might seem silly, but the truth is that this job can give you all kinds of reasons for wanting to give up and try something completely different with your life. This book features, by the way, what is probably my favorite weird few lines of text of the year. (Last year this honor went to Sergio Ruzzier in Bear and Bee.) The story for the letter ‘O’ begins: Out there on the ocean there is an owl who rides on the back of an octopus. They search for problems.

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I love that! If the entire book had consisted of only that page I still would’ve bought it.

Okay, now what?

ERIN: Nice job ignoring my question! I would have ignored it, too. Well played.

After 15 years, you should know better than to ask me “now what?” and expect me to talk freely. I am not a conversationalist.


This is so hard. Anything I want to talk to you about I just walk downstairs and I talk to you about it.

Okay, so you’ve opened the door for discussing other people’s books, which I know we could do all day. One thing I really want to do this year is an event before the holiday season where we tell people some of our favorite books of the year and why, and to whom they should give said books. Can you tell I miss being a bookseller? Do you think you might want to do this? Do you think anyone will come?

PHIL: If we build it, they will come. James Earl Jones says so.

I think the event should feature some new books and and some old ones too. I’ve got a couple ideas for books I’d love to resurrect in front of an audience full of adults. One of the things that surprised me the most last time we did an event like this is how fun it can be to read other people’s books out loud. Edward Gorey’s The Object Lesson got huge laughs. I never would’ve expected that. Generally speaking, adults should sit and have children’s books read to them more often. It’s not an experience we should grow out of. Like nap time. Why nap time stops happening after kindergarten is beyond me. Why not end lunch time while we’re at it? Geez.

Your turn.

ERIN: Yes! Older books, too! Let’s do it. Whose arm can we twist to let us in their store?

I’m sorry this conversation isn’t as exciting or as efficient as you wanted it to be. It’s been a busy fall and now fall is suddenly starting to wane. Today is Halloween. Could you please tell any reader that has made it this far with us why Halloween is your favorite holiday? I ask because I directly link this sentiment to the library system, which is very important to me.

PHIL: Very well, here is my rant about Halloween…

Christmas talks big, but Halloween is the only holiday that is really, truly, all about goodwill toward men. Total strangers—people you have never met and are never likely to meet again—come to your house and ask for a handout. And what is your response? Do you throw them off your doorstep? Do you call the police? No! You say: Hello! Thank you for coming! What a coincidence, I just spent a bunch of my hard-earned money on bags and bags of candy due to the unlikely possibility that total strangers would come and knock on my door and ask for something! Here you go! 

Isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard? It is an entire holiday predicated on simple, unreciprocal kindnesses. The reality of Halloween is truly astounding when you think about it. One day a year it gives me hope for humanity. The other days, well…

PHIL: On another note entirely (since it’s been three days and you’re not writing me back) I’m pretty excited because I think I made a breakthrough in the studio. Of course you know this already, but I’ll share anyway for the benefit of those reading.

For a while now I’ve had an idea in my head for how the art should look in a new book I’m working on. The book is about a woolly mammoth lost in a snowstorm. A lot of my books have had multi-faceted, convoluted art styles—a little bit of this, a little bit of that. But for this book I really want to use just one medium, not a mixture of lots of different things. It seems right for the story that the art be simple and direct. Simple and direct is always a challenge for me. Anyway, I’ve had a general sort of look in mind—wet, but textured—but no media that I’ve worked with in the past really fits that description quite right. When I’m stumped with stuff like this I’ve taken to watching dorky art-demo videos online (I stole this habit from you). There are millions of these things, and the quality of the art rarely affects my enjoyment. I like the good ones as much as the bad ones.

I landed on this demo, and I think I’ve got my answer: oil pastels!

I’ve never actually used oil pastels before, but I don’t see why that should stop me from making a very public fool of myself while I try. There’s a romantic quality to the history of these pastels, too. It’s hard not to feel enthusiastic about them. So, the pastels have been ordered, and soon enough we’ll see if I have any facility for them at all.

What’s up with you?

ERIN: I’m eating lunch with the pup (for any readers still left out there—our dog won’t eat alone. Never has. You have to sit quietly with her). I like the subtle you just executed. I will happily write back now, while still being properly shamed that I didn’t write back in the first place. Well done. And I’m sorry.

I am mostly focusing on a new book dummy, and how I still can’t for the life of me draw my main character. I hope that resolves itself soon. I’m also thinking about how to make the final art for my next book. I think I have an idea but I’m not sure. I am planning on playing around with those new fancy oil pastels, though.

Do you know if we have any Arches 90lb. paper still lying around somewhere? Laying around? Strewn about? You’re the writer. What’s the proper grammar there?

Okay, we’re off course. It turns out that we have, while these emails having been going back and forth, scheduled the event we spoke earlier about. And just in time for the holidays! It’s looking like we will culminate this web series with a night of talking about books and what books we think you should give all of your loved ones! Think anyone will come? Is anyone even reading this?

PHIL: I think there is at least one lonely person out there reading this.

I’m not sure what the status of our 90lb Arches paper is currently. I do not like that stuff at all. Too flimsy for my stupidly heavy hands. 140lb is where it’s at!

As for grammar, I have nothing intelligent to say. I have the same troubles with grammar that I used to have with math, before I gave it up completely in the 11th grade. The verb “to lay” is particularly vexing. Lay, lie, lied, laid—I have no idea when to use any of these words appropriately. Last night I was giving myself fits trying to figure the right and wrong uses for “whoever” vs. “whomever”. Eventually I gave up and emailed the question to a friend of mine that’s working toward his PhD in linguistics. Here is the actual transcript, with a few obvious edits:


PHIL: I am going to have to have you explain “whoever” vs. “whomever” to me sometime. It is killing me.

MATT, FUTURE PhD: It’s simple. Whether it’s whoever or whomever depends on the function of the relative (wh..ever) in ITS clause. So, “I like whomever you like” because whomever is the object of like in the relative clause.

PHIL: (Screw) that.

MATT, FUTURE PhD: “I like whover likes me” because whoever is the subject of likes in the relative clause. Same with prepositions. “I give the credit to whoever has earned it” for the same reasons as above.

PHIL: I am incapable of understanding this (stuff).

MATT, FUTURE PhD: I’ll edit your manuscript for you in exchange for a job, or housing, when I get fired.

PHIL: Okay, deal. Here’s the passage in question. Which is it?:

I’ll line the streets with soldiers, and none shall touch your witnesses—whoever they may be.

I’ll line the streets with soldiers, and none shall touch your witnesses—whomever they may be.

MATT, FUTURE PhD: The first.

Although “witnesses” is the direct object of “touch”, in the clause after the em-dash, the wh-ever word, whose referent is “witnesses, is, properly speaking, the subject complement of “may be”; “they” is the subject. (The copula doesn’t take a direct object, obviously, which is why you would say “I am he” not “I am him”.)

Make sense?

PHIL: No, not at all. But thanks. I’ll go with the first and trust that you’re not just (messing) with me.

MATT, FUTURE PhD: I really want you to get this. Whether you use who- or whom- depends on the function of the relative (the who- word) in ITS clause, not the function of its antecedent in its clause. Because “whoever they may be” employs the copula (“to be”, which is essentially like an equals sign), there are no “objects”; in other words the verb “to be” doesn’t take an object. (Forget about the modal auxiliary “may”). So you wouldn’t use the objective form whom- in that clause, even though the antecedent of whomever, which is witnesses, is the object of touch in its clause. Clearer?

In that second-to-last sentence, change “antecedent of whomever” to “antecedent of whoever”.

PHIL: Now I know you’re (messing) with me.

Good day, sir.

MATT, FUTURE PhD: I assume I’m hired, effective immediately.

PHIL: Yep, best job interview ever. You nailed it.


So there you have it. I am a hack. Switching gears again, check out this video:

I love science a lot more than I love grammar. My favorite part about this video is how genuinely elated the scientists are in the room, even though the outcome of this experiment shouldn’t be a surprise to them at all. There’s a complete lack of cynicism in that room. Very inspiring.

ERIN: Share the wolves in Yellowstone video!

PHIL: Ooooo, good idea. Here you go. I love this one. I try to explain the gist of it to people all the time, but I never do it justice.

ERIN: I love science!

PHIL: Me too!

Well, given that it’s been two months since we started this conversation, and it could very easily stretch another two months into the new year, I propose we find some way to wrap this up. I think I started way back by asking if you had any favorite moments from past episodes. I’m pretty sure you ignored the question. So I think I’m going to just answer it myself instead.

There were moments in each episode that I really liked. Matt Cordell’s tour of his studio was pretty great. Cece’s willingness to dive into the deep end with personal issues was surprising and sort of exhilarating. Really, something weird and unexpected happened in every episode. A lot of my most favorite moments were actually those in which we weren’t talking about books at all. I feel like the interview with Mac took an interesting turn when he started talking about his dog. Those kinds of things can reveal so much more about a person than paragraphs and paragraphs of book theory.

This project was sometimes fun and sometimes frustrating. But, ultimately, I think we’ve made something really unique here. And by “we” I mean all of us—Eric, Sergio, Jules, Tao, Rebecca, Mac, KT, Cece, Matt, you, and me. So thanks, everybody, for participating. And thanks to everyone out there that followed along. If we can muster the courage it’d be nice to come back next year for a second season. I’ve got a list going of some bookmakers I’d really like to talk to.

Anything more before we go?

ERIN: I think anything I would say about favorite moments you just pretty much covered. I am really grateful everyone took the time to talk with us so honestly about making books. I think the experiment was a success. I think we covered a lot of territory.

I’d also like to thank everyone for participating and thank anyone out there for reading. I hope you all liked it okay.

I love books! I think that’s it.

Ooo, actually, we should probably mention the date and time for that Holiday Book Steadstravaganza. We’ll be talking about books, recommending books, maybe having some holiday treats, and signing books if anyone would like them signed, at the following address on the following date:

Literati Bookstore, 124 E. Washington, Ann Arbor, Michigan

To celebrate Indies First Day! We’re going to talk your ears off about picture books and probably send you home with a list of even more picture books!

Saturday, November 29th, 7:30 pm

Make a day of it! Shop downtown and eat something delicious! For example, Phil and I will be attending the U of M basketball game, then moseying on over to the bookstore. Best day ever.

Hope you can make it!

Conversation ended 8 November 2014, 9:32 p.m.

So, there you have it. It took most of the year, but we completely this little project. In the spirit of You Never Know What You’ll Discover in Life we offer you this unexpected find: For more than ten years Phil’s had a little group of plastic cowboys and Indians duking it out beside his drawing table. Last week, for the first time ever, Phil noticed that one of the cowboys appears to be wearing chaps, but no pants. This is a metaphor for something important, we’re sure. It also brings us full circle, as cowboy art was a big topic during Episode 1 with Eric Rohmann.

photo (6)And on that note, thank you for reading. We leave you today in Northport, MI, where the birds are cheerfully unfazed by the season’s first sleet storm.

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